From the start of her career, Kacey Musgraves seemed destined to become country music’s next sweetheart. While she does have a few sweet songs and a heart of gold, there’s nothing wide-eyed about the 34-year-old singer, now one of Nashville’s biggest stars.
She has never been one to abide by traditional country music norms, a trait that became very clear from her first hit single “Follow Your Arrow,” which preached self-expression in all its forms and shouted support for gay marriage.
Since then, Musgraves has shared three more trailblazing albums, toured the world, and clinched a number of awards for her efforts. As the singer celebrates her birthday on August 21, let’s take a look back at a few songs from her catalog that could use a bit more love.
1. “Back on the Map” (From Same Trailer Different Park)
“Back on the Map” proves that Musgraves has had the same poignant songwriting chops from the earliest days of her career. Touching on heartbreak and the struggle of trusting someone again, the song summons the classic country tradition of healing through song.
The track is also the first song she wrote with her frequent collaborator Luke Laird. Laird helped pen three of her Grammy-award-winning singles “Merry Go ‘Round,” “Butterflies” and “Space Cowboy,” proving that the partnership has been gold from their very first go.
2. “Good Ole Boys Club” (From Pageant Material)
Musgraves’ debut album catapulted the singer out unto the world stage with a “devil may care” sensibility that shook up the country genre as we know it. Musgraves continued to take a stand on her second album, Pageant Material. One song in particular that caused a stir upon its release is the chiding “Good Ole Boys Club.”
The song touches on a common theme in Musgraves’ music—doing things her way. In this track, she says she doesn’t want to be another gear in a big machine but instead wants to make it to the big time on her own terms, even if she has to go up in flames.
3. “Kansas City Star” (From King of the Road Tribute to Roger Miller)
Since the onset of her career, Musgraves has made a point to give credit where it’s due—duetting with classic country stars and referencing the glitz and glamour of the Grand Ole Opry more often not. She continued that trend by hopping on a tribute album for a Honky-Tonk icon, Roger Miller, in 2018.
For her contribution to the star-studded tribute, she took on Miller’s 1965 track “Kansas City Star.” Though the track is quintessential Miller, Musgraves adds her own flares—replacing “king” with “queen” and delivering a healthy dose of sass. She does keep Miller’s yodeling in the chorus while some pedal steel players tip their Stetsons to those of Miller’s era.
4. “Oh, What a World 2.0” (Earth Day Version)
There isn’t a song on Golden Hour that we could ostensibly deem as a deep cut—all 13 of the tracks have streams well in the millions. But to cover the album’s representation on this list, we’re taking a look at the Earth Day-inspired 2.0 version of “Oh, What A World.”
The reworked track turns up the atmospheric dial to 11, adding in a bit of ’70s-inspired bongo and an acoustic guitar trill. While the original version of this track has more than received its dues, this version of the song feels grandiose enough to truly celebrate the “wild, beautiful world.”
5. “Gracias a la Vida” (From Star-crossed)
Closing out her latest album, Star-crossed, is this spacey, Spanish-language track that feels like it would find a comfortable home amongst the soundtrack for a John Wayne movie. The song was originally performed by Chilean folk singer Violeta Parra and acts as the twist ending to Musgraves’ blockbuster album.
After 14 tracks of break-up anthems, whistful nostalgia, and chiding remarks, the 15th, and final track does as the title suggests—gives thanks to the very notion of being alive. With the inclusion of the song, Musgraves is saying, despite it all, she’s thankful for the life, that has given her so much.
Photo by Adrienne Raquel / RCA Records